Publicador de contenidos

Back to Opinion_25_01_2021_ARQ_Nuevas_Viviendas_Poscovid

The 'new' postcovid housing


Published in

César Martín-Gómez

Professor and researcher of the University of Navarra School of Architecture

When I was training as an architect, back in 1995, I remember an impassioned session by Professor Juan Carlos Valerio, who, in turn, took what he had learned from his teachers to teach us a fundamental lesson: the main challenge of constructing collective housing buildings consists, precisely, in creating dwellings, not 'muriendas' (dwellings). We aspire to design spaces where people -we, all of us- can live in fullness; with all the intensity, the good and the bad, that the word 'live' implies. And to flee, therefore, from the mere generation of spaces where users slowly 'wear out' while death arrives.

Almost a year after the pandemic became omnipresent, articles, news, reports and videos have multiplied, in which a heterogeneous group of people -from architects to economists, lawyers or engineers- talk about the houses of the future. These 'houses of the future' will have to offer, it is announced, cross ventilation, large common spaces, reversible spaces depending on the uses, better indoor-outdoor interaction or integration of renewable energies. Who would not buy so many comforts and advances?

The paradox of these approaches is that almost none of them are new. Most of the answers to the problems posed were posted on internship more than eighty years ago! Thus, the interested reader can turn to his or her favorite internet site search engine and find concepts such as "Le Corbusier terrace housing", "Jean Prouvé ventilation", "Alvar Aalto sunlighting", or the traditional case of "Casa de las Flores Madrid". Look for them and be surprised.

Of course, they require a reading adapted to 2021, to the application of current technology and to the expectations and needs of society in the short and medium term deadline. Also to the reality that the coronavirus has brought us and that, as we have seen in a recent study in which the School of Architecture has participated together with the School of Sciences of the University of Navarra, our inability to maintain even the safety distance inside buildings, even though we are aware that we should do so, is evident.

Many of these proposals represent an incomparable starting point. This is the case of the social housing in Saint-Ouen (Paris) or the extraordinary case of the experimental housing of Nemausus in Nîmes, both by the architect Jean Nouvel at the end of the 1980s, where the concept was that the real luxury of housing was space. In this way he managed to design homes with 50% more space for the same price. He did this by incorporating large terraces, facades that opened wide to let in light and allow cross ventilation. Sound familiar? You can argue about his style, but it would make no sense to start today's debates about postcovid housing from scratch when there are many examples - built, lived in, tested and analyzed - that have been around for decades.

In the same way that we should not plan a human colony on Mars without analyzing and taking into account what we have learned from mankind's missions to the Moon, in Architecture we cannot plan cities and erect buildings that our children and grandchildren will live in without taking into account everything that has been done, both the successes and the mistakes that have brought us this far.

However, pandemic by pandemic, we seem to be in too much of a hurry. We are witnessing too many actions without logical reflection and, what is worse, too much eagerness to reinvent the wheel. Shouldn't we rather focus on adapting the good examples of the past to today's needs with the incredible technology that the 21st century offers us?

This adaptation, without breaking with everything that has gone before and without the need to create absolutely disruptive typological models, would be a great step forward in these times of uncertainty. After all, does society really demand architecture, urban planning or engineering that break with everything and create brand new models, or is it 'just' asking us to do it right?

The dreams of living, of inhabiting with dignity to which the proposals of Aalto, Le Corbusier or Prouvé and many others aspired now represent our hope and could become the reality of our future.